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USS Grunion (SS-216)

USS Grunion (SS-216) patch


The USS Grunion (SS-216) was a Gato-class World War II era submarine.

The namesake of the USS Grunion is a small, silvery food fish, of the genus Leuresthes. It is found in southern California and on the Pacific coast of Mexico. They have an unusual mating ritual whereby they spawn at high tide in wet sand.

The radio call sign of the USS Grunion was NAN-UNCLE-DOG-PETER.

On June 30, 1942, the Grunion, captained by Lieutenant Commander Mannert L. Abele, left Pearl Harbor for her first and final war patrol. The Grunion reached Midway Island where she topped-off her fuel and water, and then headed for the Aleutian Islands. On July 10, 1942, at a location thirty-five miles northwest of Kiska, Abele reported he had fired three torpedoes at a Japanese destroyer, but observed no explosions. On July 19, 1942, the Grunion, the USS S-32 (SS-137), the USS Triton (SS-201), and the USS Tuna (SS-203) were ordered to take positions in the approaches to Kiska Harbor. On June 28, 1942, Abele reported he had fired two torpedoes at unidentified enemy ships six miles south of Sirius Point, on the north flank of Kiska Volcano, but observed no explosions. On July 30, 1942, Abele transmitted the message, "FROM GRUNION X ATTACKED TWO DESTROYERS OFF KISKA HARBOR X NIGHT PERISCOPE SUBMERGED X RESULTS INDEFINITE BELIEVE ONE SANK ONE DAMAGED X MINOR DAMAGE FROM COUNTERATTACK TWO HOUR LATER X ALL TORPEDOES EXPENDED AFT..." and then the rest of message became undecipherable. Japanese reports examined after the war indicated she sank two submarine chasers and possibly damaged a third, at 52°-02' N, 177°-42' E. On the same day, the Grunion was directed to return to Dutch Harbor. She was never heard from again. Air searches off Kiska were fruitless. On October 5, 1942, it was announced publically that she was assumed lost with all hands. 1

Navy Department Communiqué No. 139, October 5, 1942

Pacific Area.

1. The U. S. S. Grunion (submarine) has been overdue in the Pacific for some time and must be presumed to be lost.

2. The next of kin of the personnel of the Grunion have been notified.

Her name was struck from the Navy List on November 2, 1942.

Japanese records examined after the war did not contain evidence of any antisubmarine attacks in the Kiska area that could possibly account for Grunion's disappearance. The fate of the Grunion remained a mystery. Since there were no known enemy minefields and no record of any antisubmarine attacks in her area, her loss was presumed to have been due to an operational issue or as a result of an unrecorded enemy attack. Some people believed she had been sunk by the Japanese submarine I-25, which had reported sinking a submarine in the area. However, Japanese records reviewed after the war proved that the submarine I-25 had reported sinking was actually the 1,039-ton Russian Leninets or L-class mine laying submarine L-16, which was sailing from Petropavlovsk, Siberia via Dutch Harbor, Alaska to San Francisco. The sinking occurred on October 11, 1942, at 45°-41' N, 138°-56' E. The Navy's position then and today is that the reason for the Grunion's loss remains an unsolved mystery. 2

In 1987, Vernon J. Miller wrote that the Grunion was probably sunk after 0601 hours, on July 31, 1942, about ten nautical miles north of Segula Island, just east of Kiska Island, by gunfire from the Japanese transport vessel Kashima Maru, which was previously named Kano Maru. (In later years, it would be proved that the vessel responsible for the gunfire was named Kano Maru.) Japanese crewmen aboard the vessel observed a hit on the submarine, followed by a dull underwater explosion. The Japanese minelayer Ishizaki and submarine chaser Ch 26 observed oil and pieces of life preservers at the place of the explosion. Also, oil continued to rise to the surface from three different places for several days. The Japanese reported that the Grunion had transmited a radio report just prior to making a torpedo attack on the Kano Maru and did not make any such report afterwards. There is no evidence in Navy records that this report was ever made. 3

In 2001, Captain Abele's son, Bruce Abele, received information about a Japanese website that might contain clues about the fate of the Grunion. Abele's youngest brother, John, contacted the person who had posted the information, Utaka Iwasaki. Iwasaki translated and sent him a report written in the 1960s by a Japanese military officer who served in the Aleutians on the Japanese freighter Kano Maru. The report describes a July 31, 1942 confrontation between a submarine and the Kano Maru off Kiska. The report also contains observations made by witnesses of the attack who were aboard the freighter. According to this information, the submarine fired a total of six torpedoes at the Kano Maru. One torpedo hit her. It exploded, crippling the main engine and generator, causing flooding in the vessel's machinery room, and leaving her afloat but powerless. Two torpedoes struck the vessel but were duds. Two of the last three torpedoes fired by Gudgeon hit the Kano Maru, but did not explode. The last one passed astern. At the same time, a witness aboard the Kano Maru who was looking aft reported seeing bubbles on the surface moving in a circular pattern about 200 to 300 meters away. Simultaneous with spotting the moving-bubble formation, the Gudgeon's conning tower broke the surface at the head of the line of bubbles and the waves began splashing against it. At the same moment, an eight-centimeter shell from the Kano Maru's deck gun hit the washing-wave area. It was followed by a large black and brown-colored water column and dull-explosion sound. A thin black bar appeared on the surface and then sank. Witnesses also reported seeing heavy oil on the surface and surmised that perhaps the Gudgeon had tried to surface to try to sink the Kano Maru with gunfire. The Japanese believed the Kano Maru's deck gun had hit the submarine's conning tower, delivering a fatal blow for the submarine. Later that day, the Japanese sub chaser CH-26, minelayer Ishizaki, and cable layer Ukishima investigated the area and found oil slicks, a piece of a lifeguard buoy, submarine deck material, and other submarine debris floating on the surface. Armed with this information Bruce Abele and his brothers hired a marine survey firm, Seattle-based Williamson and Associates, for an expedition to Kiska. Aboard a Bering Sea crab boat, more than a dozen crew members and sonar surveyors set out on August 2, 2006. In mid-August, the sonar picked up a 290-foot-long object wedged into a terrace on the steep underwater slope of a volcano in the area where the submarine confronted Kano Maru. The surveyors were ninety-five percent sure the shadowy images were those of the USS Grunion. It was the only known sunken vessel in the area, and the sonar captured the distinct outline of a submarine conning tower. On August 23, 2007, a second expedition was made to the site. This team studied the style of the sunken submarine's conning tower and prop guards. On October 3, 2008, the U. S. Navy confirmed the wreckage is that of the USS Grunion. However, the Navy did not state how the Grunion was lost. The cause of Grunion's sinking remains a mystery. 4

A list of the personnel lost with the Grunion is maintained at http://www.oneternalpatrol.com/uss-grunion-216.htm.

The Grunion received one battle star for her World War II service. She was scored by JANAC and SORG for sinking 600 tons in two enemy vessels. Her Alden-McDonald score is three vessels sunk for 9,492 tons. The Alden-McDonald analysis shares the credit for the total destruction of the Kano Maru between the Grunion and U. S. Navy PBY Catalina aircraft. The Kano Maru was disabled by a torpedo fired by the Grunion. The disabled cargo vessel was towed to Kiska Harbor and unloaded there. It was destroyed by the Catalina aircraft on September 15, 1942, and then was beached and abandoned. 5

On its maiden cruise to the Pacific, while en route from New London to Panama in a heavy gale, the Grunion rescued sixteen men in a lifeboat from a merchant ship that had been torpedoed by a German u-boat. The men were brought aboard the Grunion and brought to safety at Panama. One of the survivors, the ship's engineer, later wrote, "I have never seen such wonderful seamanship as Abele executed when he rescued us." 6


Loss Possibilities

There are several interesting theories about what caused the Grunion's loss. They all seem credible, but as of today there is absolutely no certainty as to exactly what happened. We can be thankful that we know with certainty where she and her crew rest.

1. The eyewitness evidence provided by the crew aboard the Kano Maru and other vessels suggests two possible reasons for the Grunion's loss. One is that as the Grunion appeared to be surfacing, her conning tower was struck by a shell fired by the Kano Maru's deck gun. The evidence indicates that when the shell hit the area where a wave was breaking against the submarine's conning tower, a column of water arose, a large underwater explosion sound was heard, and swells of heavy oil were seen. Later, other Japanese vessels sent to investigate the area reported finding more oil and submarine debris afloat. The men aboard the Kano Maru believed that the eight centimeter shell had caused the conning tower to explode, thereby causing the Grunion to sink. The second possible reason for the Grunion's loss is based on the observations of one Kano Maru crewman who reported seeing bubbles on the sea's surface moving in a semicircle. At the vanguard of the bubbles a large black and brown column of water appeared, a thin black metal bar was jettisoned above the surface and then fell back and sank, and oil was seen on the surface. This witness also believed the submarine was sunk by the shell.

John D. Alden believed that the conning tower could not have exploded as described by the first group of witnesses. The eight centimeter shell was simply not powerful enough to cause such a large explosion. He also speculated that the bubbles on the surface reported by the second witness could have been a telltale sign of a circular run by a fourth dud torpedo. If so, it might explain why the Grunion was surfacing prematurely since it may have been trying to start its diesel engines to escape the path of this torpedo. 7

2. Photographic evidence of the Grunion's wreck disclosed her stern dive planes were jammed in a full-dive position. The dive planes were not controlled hydraulically. Instead, a lengthy mechanical linkage prone to jamming was used. The position of the jammed dive planes probably caused the Grunion to make a steep dive angle from which it was impossible to recover. She would eventually pass her crush-depth limit and implode. 8

3. Photographic evidence of the Grunion's wreck shows that the entire shear assembly (the structure holding the periscopes) is bent forward, toward the submarine's bow. They are bent in the same heading the submarine made as it slid down the slope of a underwater volcano. This indicates that it is unlikey the damage to the sheers was caused by contact with the volcano. It is more likely that the bend was caused by a circular run by a fourth dud torpedo. The 3,500 pound torpedo traveling at 53 miles per hour would make a significant impact. Under this theory, the column of water reported by the Kano Maru's witnesses was caused by the massive bubble of air that rose to the surface when the Grunion imploded as it passed her crush-depth limit. It is important to note that the fairwater free-flooding area just in front of the conning tower was not damaged by implosion. It did not reveal any evidence of shell penetration. 9



JANAC Score for the USS Grunion (SS-216)


Patrol
No.
Date
DD-MM-YY
Vessel
Name
Vessel
Type
Tonnage
Sunk
Location
Sunk
 
1 15-Jul-42 Sub Chaser No. 25 Sub Chaser 300 52-02N, 177-42E
 
1 15-Jul-42 Sub Chaser No. 27 Sub Chaser 300 52-02N, 177-42E
 
TOTALS   2 vessels 600 tons  
 


Alden-McDonald Score for the USS Grunion (SS-216)


Patrol
No.
Date
DD-MM-YY
Vessel
Name
Vessel
Type
Tonnage
Sunk
Tonnage
Damaged
 
1 15-Jul-42 Ch 25 Submarine Chaser 460  
 
1 15-Jul-42 Ch 27 Submarine Chaser 460  
 
1 31-Jul-42 Kano Maru Cargo Ship 8,572 sh  
 
  TOTALS 3 vessels sunk
0 vessels damaged
sh = Shared credit with
American aircraft
Tons sunk
9,492
Tons damaged
0
 


SORG Score for the USS Grunion (SS-216)


SORG Score Report for the USS Grunion (SS-216)

SORG totals for Grunion
2 vessels sunk for 600 tons




signature
Updated Wednesday, 16-Apr-2014 08:36:53 EDT

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1. Blair, Clay Jr., Silent Victory: The U. S. Submarine War Against Japan, p. 271; Beach, Edward L., Submarine!, p. 10; Hackett, Bob, Sander Kingsepp and Peter Cundall, "IJN Subchaser CH-25: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at http://www.combinedfleet.com/CH-25_t.htm (accessed on March 17, 2014), "IJN Subchaser CH-26: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at http://www.combinedfleet.com/CH-26_t.htm (accessed on March 17, 2014), "IJN Subchaser CH-27: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at http://www.combinedfleet.com/CH-27_t.htm (accessed on March 17, 2014); and, Abele, Brad, "Jim," published online at http://navsource.org/archives/08/pdf/0821608.pdf (accessed on March 18, 2014).

2. Reports that Grunion was torpedoed on July 30, 1942 by Japanese submarine I-25 are erroneous because the submarine was at Yokosuka on July 17, 1942 and did not sail again until August 15, 1942. Miller, Vernon J., "U. S. Submarine Losses," issue 43, p. 208; Hackett, Bob and Sander Kingsepp, "IJN I-25: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at http://www.combinedfleet.com/I-25.htm (accessed on March 6, 2014); and "United States Submarine Losses World War II," published online at http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/sublosses/sublosses_grunion.htm (accessed April 5, 2014).

3. Miller, Vernon J., op. cit.

4. See "Attack Analysis," published online at http://ussgrunion.com/blog/attack-analysis/ (accessed on March 6, 2014); "Navy Confirms Sunken Submarine is Grunion," COMSUBPAC Public Affairs, published online at http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=40118 (accessed on March 6, 2014); Dunham, Mike, "After 70 years, mystery endures over fate of USS Grunion," Anchorage Daily News, May 30, 2011, published online at http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/05/30/114992/after-70-years-mystery-endures.html#storylink=cpy (accessed on March 6, 2014); Hackett, Bob, Sander Kingsepp and Peter Cundall, "IJN Subchaser CH-26: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at http://www.combinedfleet.com/CH-26_t.htm (accessed on March 17, 2014); Abele, Bruce, and Brad Abele and John Abele, Our Search for Jim: A photo supplement for Fatal Dive, p. 59-70; and Stevens, Peter F., Fatal Dive: Solving the World War II Mystery of the USS Grunion, p. 169-173.

5. Alden, John D., and Craig R. McDonald, United States and Allied Submarine Successes in the Pacific and Far East During World War II, Fourth Edition, see USS Grunion (SS-216), Attack Nos. 236, 237, and 252; Submarine war patrol reports on CD, data collected by the Submarine Operations Research Group (SORG) in the report "Results of U. S. Submarine War Patrols Listed Alphabetically by Name of Submarine"; Japanese Naval And Merchant Shipping Losses During World War II By All Causes, Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, USS Grunion (SS-216), published online at http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/Japan/IJN/JANAC-Losses/JANAC-Losses-6.html#grunion (accessed September 29, 2011); Miller, Vernon J., op. cit., p. 208.

6. Blair, Clay, Jr., op. cit., p. 271.

7. Abele, Brad, ""Jim," p 4-7, published online at http://navsource.org/archives/08/pdf/0821608.pdf, 1998 (accessed on March 18, 2014).

8. Abele, Bruce, and Brad Abele and John Abele, op. cit., p. 68.

9. Ibid., p. 67-70.